My husband and I have been raising chickens in Western New York, where the winter temperatures consistently drop well below zero. We see harsh winds, nor’easters and plenty of piled up snow and ice. Over the years we’ve found several unique ways to winterize the chicken coop to ensure our birds will make it through winter safe and sound.
Autumn is the time of year when chicken keepers start worrying about their flock, and it doesn’t stop until spring takes hold. Can your chickens survive the harsh winter? How do you keep your chickens warm when the temps drop below zero?
Now, one thing I will not suggest in this post is to add a heat lamp to the chicken coop, as I truly don’t believe it’s necessary, even in the coldest regions. Read this post if you’d like to find out why.
In this post I’m going to cover the four steps you need to take to winterize the chicken coop without using heat. These steps are simple, easy, and best of all, cheap! Each of them are definitely features on the perfect chicken coop!
Winterizing the Chicken Coop
Step One: Utilize the Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method is not only a good way to cut down on chicken chores, it’s a great way to add a little heat to your chicken coop in the winter months!
You can read more about the deep litter method in our post on the subject, but the basic idea is to stir up the bedding on the floor of the coop every week and add fresh bedding on top. The deep layer of bedding helps to insulate the floor of the coop and as the litter composts over time it releases heat into the chicken coop.
If you choose not to use the deep litter method and want to clean out the coop weekly instead, it’s still a good idea to put a thick layer of pine shavings or extra bedding on the coop floor to help keep out the chill.
Step Two: Winterize the Chicken Coop with Insulation
An insulated coop is a warm coop. Now I’m not saying you need to hire out a contractor and spend thousands of dollars to insulate your coop, but taking a few simple measures will make a big difference for your flock.
Your chickens will naturally warm the space that they live in by releasing body heat. If you can trap that heat inside the coop by insulating it, your chickens will be warmer and you won’t have the risk of fire that comes with using a heat source.
If you want to go the whole nine yards, using spray foam insulation on the coop walls covered by plywood will make the coop nice and toasty for your birds. This might be a good idea if you live in an area that consistently drops below -10 degrees Farhenheit in the winter.
If your winters are a little more mild, you can get away with cheaper and easier insulation. Something as simple as hanging wool blankets or horse blankets on the walls or stacking straw bales against the walls can really help to keep the coop warm in winter. You can also but clear plastic on the windows to insulate them or use plastic sheeting to section off part of the coop. It’s easier for chickens to keep warm in a smaller space.
Step Three: Eliminate Drafts in the Coop
A drafty coop is like a constantly blowing fan in already super cold weather. Eliminating cold drafts can be difference between misery and comfort for your flock. Drafts are dangerous to chickens because they make it difficult for the birds to use their natural defense against the cold, their feather armor. Chickens fluff up their feathers when they’re cold, creating a pocket of warm air next to their skin. If they’re getting blown with cold air, that pocket of warmth gets disrupted, causing a nasty chill.
Drafts are common in areas that lead to the outside, such as doors and windows. Close up gaps around frames with Silicone Sealant or weather strips. When the weather drops below zero, close the door to the chicken run and keep the birds inside to conserve heat.
Step Four: Add Ventilation to Winterize the Chicken Coop
While a drafty coop is detrimental to your flock, a completely airtight coop can be just as bad, if not worse. There needs to be constant exchange of air happening between your chicken coop and the outside. This is one of the best things you can do to winterize the chicken coop.
What’s the difference between drafts and ventilation? Think of drafts like a constant fan blowing on your chickens. If there’s a drafty window at the same level as the chicken roosts, that allows a constant breeze on your birds, chilling them to the bone.
Good ventilation on the other hand, allows inside air that is full of ammonia, moisture, dust, and carbon dioxide, to flow out of the coop, and allows fresh air to flow in. This is essential for the health of your flock. Moisture is the leading cause of frostbite, not cold, so letting moisture escape is the key to avoiding it.
Proper coop ventilation happens at the top of the coop, where the wall meets the ceiling. This is too high up to cause a constant blowing draft on your chickens (unless they roost in the rafters) but still allows a proper exchange of air.
To add ventilation holes to your coop, you can either drill holes in the wall, or cut a few small rectangular windows and cover them with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth will keep out predators and pests like mice, but still allow air flow.
Extra Tips to help your chickens get through the cold winter:
- Buy a heated waterer to keep their water from freezing
- Invest in breeds of chickens that are cold hardy
- Feed your chickens warm treats on very cold nights
Winterizing the chicken coop is easy and will absolutely make life more comfortable for your chickens this winter. Take the time to do it in the fall and your birds will thank you with plenty of eggs and chicken cuddles all winter long!